Arcola riding high
In 39 years of coaching high school basketball — all at Arcola — Nancy Stiff has come to recognize one important element to a team's success.
"So much of the time, it's all about attitude," Stiff said.
The Purple Riders are 15-3 this season — with two of the losses by a combined six points — and there's a big reason for the strong start.
"I have great players with great attitudes," Stiff said. "Their team camaraderie is over the top. They enjoy being with each other. We have great support from the kids at school and a great group of parents. It's just a fabulous atmosphere."
Stiff got an idea of her team's depth in the first three games. Three different squad members led the team in scoring. Since then, two others have been the leaders at least once.
"We have six or seven who are able to score from eight to 15 points a game, which makes us hard to guard," Stiff said.
Freshman Taylor Edwards has been the leader in the majority of the games, but Stiff pointed out "in no way, shape or form have we built our offense around her. I have never built my offense around any player."
Seniors Holly Henry and Karina Salinas along with juniors Cara Edwards and Rachel Fishel also have taken turns as scoring leaders.
"We've been down for a couple of years. Every small school goes through this," Stiff said, "but I've never had a team not give me 100 percent.
"We will graduate three seniors, but we're still very young. We have a lot of young kids who will get better and better."
Senior Lexi Edwards starts but has been able to play her natural position (off guard) with the emergence of Fishel as the point guard. Other top reserves off the bench, besides Salinas, are sophomores Klairyn Karmazinas and Samantha Reece.
Season ended too soon
The injury-plagued season for Chrisman senior Paige Thevenin has ended prematurely.
"She has a shoulder injury that was a continuation of when she dislocated her shoulder the second game of the season that apparently never healed right," Chrisman coach Cole Huber said.
The 6-foot-2 Thevenin — who has committed to Danville Area Community College — averaged 7.3 points and 9.6 rebounds while playing in parts of 12 games. She started the season with a 20-point game in the Cardinals' opener.
B-H builds up depth
Coach Mike Stephens has had to rely on more than his regular nucleus as top-seeded Bismarck-Henning prepares for the start of Saturday's 32nd Vermilion County tournament at Danville's Palmer Arena.
Senior Emily Weinard is returning from a knee injury, but junior Abby Bergman and freshman Brooke Walsh missed Monday's game with illness and their status for the tournament has not been determined. Senior Samantha Siddens is also questionable, with a foot injury.
"We have a few health issues right now, but county is always one of the highlights of our season and one of the things we make sure we're prepared for," Stephens said.
Junior Lexi Ballard and sophomore Addie Voyles are two of the squad members who have played more prominent roles.
"Lexi can run the point and brings a lot of energy," Stephens said. "She has done a great job. The kid who has improved the most is Voyles."
Senior Lori Haas has been a consistent scorer, but Stephens likes the overall steadiness to her play.
"She is able to do well offensively but at same time neutralize (the) other team's best guard," he said.
Defense will remain a point of emphasis.
"It's a good defensive team," Stephens said, "but we've been after them pretty hard. We think we can get better than we are."
The Blue Devils (14-5) play the tournament opener at 9 a.m. Saturday against Westville.
Pointing the way
Argenta-Oreana junior Kandie Bloch has scored at least 20 points in 10 of her 18 games, including her last four. During her recent hot spell, the 6-1 Bloch also had back-to-back 30-point outings.
Also averaging at least 20 points per game this season are seniors Megan Jones, from Ridgeview, and Jamie Blue, from Urbana Uni High.
Another senior who's steadily increased her average is St. Joseph-Ogden's Josey Fruhling, who tallied 82 points in a four-game streak before finishing with 12 Monday against St. Thomas More.
A farewell event
Lovington High School will close its doors for good at season's end, but it will be in the spotlight starting Saturday as the host for the Little Okaw Valley Conference tournament.
"It worked out well," Arthur-Lovington coach Jenni Marner said, "but it had been set (as the host) for a while."
In years past, the Lancers played at least one regular season game at Lovington. This season, however, Marner's squad will not have a homecourt advantage.
"We haven't had any games or practice there," she said.
Her roster includes five athletes from Lovington. The biggest varsity contributor is sophomore Briana Morgan. Others from Lovington are sophomore Megan Carver, sophomore Emily Harlan, freshman Brianne Jones and freshman Beth Lambdin.
Before Thursday, the Lancers (11-7) had five straight games settled by no more than seven points.
"We've been installing a new offense and with that comes some bumps and bruises," Marner said, "but the last couple weeks we've made some strong strides."
Sophomores Sherelle Coller and Karly Goodman have been two of the scoring leaders, but the coach said senior Megan Brough and junior Ashley Tabb have played vital roles.
"Megan is kind of the glue girl, stuff you wouldn't see in the box score, but she helps our team function," Marner said. "She has a lot of enthusiasm and has stepped up her leadership. Ashley is someone who plays hard all the time."
Veterans leading Fisher
Fisher's Bunnies have a group of six seniors who've helped the squad to a 12-7 record. The veterans are Elyssa Browning, Jacy Cochran, Ashley Miller, Chaney Miller, Danielle Tadlock and Marissa Williams.
"They each have been with the Fisher program for all four years," coach ken Ingold said. "They are good students and represent Fisher very well, both on and off the court. I truly feel blessed to have coached these girls for the past four years. We talk about playing together as a team, handling our roles to the best of our ability and being the most excited team to play. These seniors have bought into that philosophy in both practice and games."
The rest of the roster is an interesting mix. The other six players include five sophomores and the lone junior, Gina Masko. One of the key sophomores is 6-2 Caitlin Cole, who has had several double-doubles.
"I think our opponents have to account for Caitlin at both ends of the floor, and she is making an impact," Ingold said.
Cole scored 20 points in a 49-48 win over Paxton-Buckley-Loda last month.
Fisher received the No. 4 seed for the Heart of Illinois Conference tournament, which starts Saturday at Ridgeview.
Two league teams are ranked among the top three in the state. LeRoy (17-1) is rated third in Class 1A. El Paso/Gridley (18-0) is ranked second in 2A.
"I believe our conference is among the toughest in the state," Ingold said. "El Paso/Gridley and LeRoy are both deserving of their ranking and are legitimate state contenders.
"We would like to reach the semifinals in the conference tourney and get a chance to play a couple games at the Shirk Center (in Bloomington)."
Illinois Wesleyan University will serve as the site for the semifinals (Thursday) and the finals (Jan. 21).
Armstrong-Potomac senior Brooke Markwalder needs 20 points to reach 1,000 for her prep career. She is averaging 15.6 points per game this year. The Trojans will play Hoopeston Area in the noon game at Saturday's Vermilion County tournament.
Milford senior Ashlen Portwood is 21 points from becoming the Bearcats' all-time scoring leader, boys or girls. She has 1,327 points. The record is held by 1981 graduate Misty Scherf (1,347).
"Her niece, Kylie Scherf, is our point guard and has played a huge part in Ashlen's success," Milford coach Rod Burgett said.
Kylie Scherf has led the team in assists the past two seasons and this year leads the area (5.8 average).
News-Gazette Top 10
TEAM (PREVIOUS) RECORD COMMENT
1. Centennial (1) 17-2 Next: Saturday vs. Alleman in Galesburg
2. St. Thomas More (2) 16-4 Next: Monday in SVC tournament vs. TBA
3. Central (3) 12-6 Next: Saturday vs. Bloomington at home
4. Shiloh (4) 17-4 Next: Monday in LOVC tournament at Lovington vs. TBA
5. St. Joseph-Ogden (7) 15-3 Next: Saturday at Momence
6. Tuscola (5) 13-3 Next: Monday vs. Sullivan at home
7. LeRoy (6) 17-1 Next: Tuesday in Heart of Illinois tournament at Lexington vs. TBA
8. Bismarck-Henning (8) 14-5 Next: Saturday in Vermilion County tournament at Danville vs. Westville
9. Watseka (9) 14-5 Next: Saturday vs. Prairie Central at home
10. Urbana Uni High (10) 12-3 Next: Monday vs. Decatur Christian at home